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Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Delivers Remarks at the Community Relations Service Transgender Law Enforcement
Training Launch


United States

Good morning, and thank you, Tony.  I am proud to be here to help launch the Community Relations Service’s Transgender Law Enforcement Training, which we will debut in just a few minutes.  I want to thank CRS Director Grande Lum for your leadership on this issue, as well as the other community issues that you help us all navigate.

As you will see today, CRS, with the assistance of many federal, state and local partners, has helped the Department realize a significant and groundbreaking accomplishment with the development of its transgender law enforcement training. 

As most of you here know, transgender individuals—people whose gender identity or internal sense of being male or female is different from the gender assigned to them at birth—face enormous odds.

While it is difficult to find comprehensive data, a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that discrimination against transgender individuals is pervasive: 63 percent of respondents reported they had experienced a serious act of discrimination that had a major impact on their quality of life and their ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally.

Transgender people are reportedly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty than the general population. Too often, transgender people are the target of violent crime, including murder: 61 percent reported they were the victim of physical assault.  Those who escape violence from others may still face self-inflicted harm: 41 percent of the population who responded reported having attempted suicide. [Data from NCTE’s 2011 executive summary]

The Department recognizes that what is often lost in the debates about transgender individuals is that transgender lives are human lives.

To that end, the Department’s Civil Rights Division fills a special and crucial role in abolishing discrimination on the basis of gender.  The Civil Rights Division protects gender identity and expression by investigating and prosecuting gender-identity motivated violence under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

But the Community Relations Service serves the critical function of allowing the Department to be proactive — to improve understanding and improve relations before incidents occur.  CRS also plays a critical role in the aftermath of unfortunate events, by working to prevent additional violence by training and educating those on the ground in communities affected by anti-transgender hate crimes.

Today you will see that CRS’s new training helps ensure that we in law enforcement proactively protect the civil rights of all persons, including those who suffer from acts of hate violence or discrimination on the basis of his or her actual or perceived gender identity.

This program upholds a priority shared by President Obama and Attorney General Holder, as well so many of us at the Department.  CRS’s work on transgender issues serves to extend the positive and essential efforts the Department has been making during Attorney General Holder’s tenure.  From concluding that the Defense of Marriage Act was indefensible in court, to the extension of benefits to same-sex marriages to robust enforcement of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Department’s commitment to ensuring equality for the LGBT community has been clear. 

What we are about to see is a cultural training program designed to educate law enforcement about the transgender communities they serve.  It also is designed to foster mutual understanding between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and enhance law enforcement outreach capabilities to the transgender communities by addressing sensitivities, stereotypes, and expectations.

At its most basic level, the new training will provide tools to enhance an officer’s ability to build partnerships with community members and to work with fellow citizens, who share a commitment to public safety.

But, importantly, this training program incorporates the concerns you shared with us. 

We heard you when you told us that we needed to establish a foundation of trust between those who serve and protect the public and those in the LGBT communities—particularly the transgender community—who are disproportionately the victims of hate violence.

We listened when you told us that you felt that you did not have the respect or understanding of members of law enforcement. 

We understood when you shared the worst possible – and frankly unacceptable – outcome that the transgender community could face.  Based on the community’s fears about law enforcement’s support and perceptions, too many of you in the transgender community simply didn’t report incidents of crime brought to bear against you. 

This is not a result that can or will be tolerated by the Justice Department, and it runs counter to the very role your community public safety officials want to promote.

In order to rectify this untenable result, CRS took action.  With input from law enforcement leaders and transgender advocates, CRS created today’s training to assist communities and law enforcement agencies to improve their understanding of the transgender communities they serve and improve their work with those communities. 

Building the trust that will enable law enforcement officers to better protect those in their communities and will allow all community members to enjoy the safety and protection that they deserve.
As Director Lum noted, the Community Relations Service has its own distinctive mission within the Department of Justice.  They are enabled—and in fact expected— to work collaboratively with community members and law enforcement leaders to address difficulties, disagreements or disputes associated with allegations of discrimination.  They are expected to help communities prevent and respond more effectively to alleged hate crimes.

When violence does occur, CRS is uniquely positioned to work with communities affected by hate violence to facilitate communication and build trust — with the goal of preventing future violence.

Let me give you an example.  In the Spring of 2012, I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, and observed another CRS cultural professionalism training — one that was addressing the Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities. I was pleased to see community members volunteering to help CRS facilitate these trainings.  Through an investment of time and skills, communities impressively worked together with law enforcement to realize the shared goal of improving public safety for all citizens.

I think you will be equally impressed to see how community partners will play a key role in effectuating CRS’ new transgender law enforcement training as well.

Forward-thinking chiefs of police, sheriffs, and other public safety professionals who opt to participate in CRS’s new training correctly recognize that they must build community partnerships in order to maintain their commitment to community policing. Not surprisingly, some of these insightful leaders are here with us today.  To those of you joining us today, I extend a warm welcome from the Department, and I thank you for your dedication, foresight, and effort to make your communities not only safer but better.

Over the past several years, the Department of Justice has observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, a day to honor the memory of victims of anti-transgender violence and discrimination. 

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day to recommit ourselves to breaking the cycle of violence that affects far too many transgender Americans. 

Today, we celebrate the newest tool in the Department’s toolbox to forge a stronger collaboration between those who have taken an oath to serve and protect all in their communities including the particularly vulnerable members of the transgender community.  Going forward, with CRS’s leadership, it is my sincere hope that, as we at the Department make significant strides to protect transgender people, the list of those remembered on Transgender Day will cease to grow.

Thank you, to CRS, for leading the Department in these efforts. You have kept the momentum going in our work to protect the LGBT community, and I am honored to be here today as you move us forward as a nation. 

I will now turn things over to Director Lum to debut today’s training program and to introduce the key players in the training roll-out.

Updated September 17, 2014